Advertised ER wait times paint overly sunny picture

Advertised hospital emergency department wait times can often be more myth than reality, according to an article in Healthcare Dive.

Problems range from different interpretations of what constitutes a wait time to flat-out misleading advertising, according to the article.

Although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) defines wait time as how long it takes for a patient to be seen by a licensed practitioner such as a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, according to ProPublica, but some EDs stop the clock when the patient is seen by a receptionist or by a triage nurse, according to Healthcare Dive.

For example, a television investigation of hospitals' posted wait times in Orlando, Florida, found advertised wait times of about 30 minutes were closer to three or four hours in practice. Florida Hospital system told Orlando's News 6 that the advertised ED wait times aren't a guarantee, but represent a "rolling average of the previous 60 minutes for all patients."  Patients with more severe conditions are seen more quickly than others, the hospital system said, according to the article.

Doctors told Healthcare Dive they are hampered in moving patients through the ED more quickly because of factors including long boarding times, in which patients are stuck in the ED until a bed opens up on an inpatient floor, and new federal rules that require that clinicians perform certain time-consuming tests before they admit a patient.

Case studies indicate there's hope for reducing wait times. The University of Colorado Hospital cut the time from arrival to being seen by an attending physician to less than eight minutes, FierceHealthcare recently reported, and cut total treatment time by more than 40 percent. One major change: The ED eliminated triage, instead ensuring a senior physician sees each patient within minutes of arrival.

Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Chicago, meanwhile, takes patients directly to beds and uses documentation scribes that allow doctors to spend more time with patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported. And Doctors Hospital of Manteca in California lets patients sign in from home for ED appointments, with times updated as emergencies arise.

To learn more:
- read the article
- here's the Pro Publica article
- check out the News 6 investigation